*In this special edition of The Living Legends Series, EURweb.com contributor Gwendolyn Quinn talks with Sheila Eldridge, founder and CEO of Miles Ahead Entertainment and Broadcasting. On October 6th, the media legend will be honored by The Living Legends Foundation with the Entrepreneur Award during its 25th anniversary gala at the Taglyan Cultural Complex in Hollywood.
A graduate of Howard University, Eldridge started her career in radio at WHUR-FM. After several years in corporate America, she founded Orchid Communications, a marketing and public relations firm based in New Jersey with offices in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Over the years, she represented a stellar list of music and entertainment clients including En Vogue, Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the O’Jays, Yolanda Adams and others. Eldridge later expanded the company services to include event management, sponsor engagement and lifestyle marketing and rebranded Orchid Communications to Miles Ahead Entertainment and Broadcasting. The Maryland based multicultural firm handles a wide and diverse list of corporate clients including Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, Essence Communications, and McDonald’s, just to name a few. Under Miles Ahead, Eldridge founded and created the nationally-syndicated radio show, Café Mocha, which airs in over 30 markets and on Sirius XM Satellite radio.
Gwendolyn Quinn: Please tell our readers about Café Mocha Radio and how you launched it?
Sheila Eldridge: I grew up in Washington, DC, the home of the best radio in the country. Café Mocha was launched to create an alternative and to dispel the images of black women that were being portrayed on television via a plethora of reality shows several years ago. Since I consider radio to be the heartbeat of our community, there was no question it was the best platform to be a voice for our opinions and perspectives. The concept initially was met with a little resistance, but now after five years I’m proud that we’re the first and number one nationally syndicated radio show created exclusively by and for women of color around the country.
Affectionately known as radio from a woman’s perspective, Café Mocha is built on the concept of women helping women to grow through shared experiences and information. Co-hosted by comedienne and “The Real” host Loni Love, broadcast veteran Angelique Perrin and female rap icon Yo-Yo, the show is broadcast every weekend and reaches over 2.3 million listeners in nearly thirty markets including New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and Atlanta as well as on Sirius XM’s Channel 141 HUR Voices. It’s a two-hour girlfriend’s guide that features the latest in urban music, compelling hot topics, exclusive interviews with top artists, celebrities, politicians, and those making headlines all with an unabashedly women’s perspective. You can check out Café Mocha Radio at www.CafeMochaRadio.com for airtimes around the country and on twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube @CafeMochaRadio.
GQ: Do you have plans to create and purchase other radio platforms?
SE: We’re in the process of testing and plan to launch two new shows for 2017. I’m excited that both shows will marry digital content with the radio platform to create a unique and interactive experience for the audience. More to come on this.
GQ: As a longtime successful communications, marketing and branding strategist, what advice can you share with young people interested in pursuing a career in media, marketing and entertainment?
SE: Always stay in a learning state of mind. Twenty-five plus years ago when I started my career, I didn’t have the tools of the Internet for research, testing, or as a communications and promotional vehicle. Today, given this platform, there’s a broader variety of careers to specialize in as well as increased opportunities to embark on entrepreneurial ventures. Young people should take advantage of this platform, think outside the box and research mentors, set goals and focus on strategic career plans. If considering entrepreneurship, stay armed with the fundamentals: a good business plan, great team and dare to leap and be first.
GQ: As an entrepreneur what has been your most rewarding experience and accomplishment?
SE: In the broadcast arena, one of my most rewarding experiences was completing the year-long National Association of Broadcasters Broadcast Leadership Training (BLT) program and ultimately purchasing five radio stations in Augusta, Georgia. The time I spent in Augusta was actually the incubation period that launched my syndication show with the first property being Café Mocha. Also, being the co-founder of the International Association of African American Music (IAAAM) with Dyana Williams. In 2006, I was the recipient of the Outstanding Woman in Marketing and Communication honor by EBONY magazine. That year represented milestones in my career. Mr. Johnson, the founder of Johnson Publishing was an avid early supporter of my business and to receive that award from EBONY magazine after his passing was really special.
GQ: Share with our readers some of the hardest and most difficult lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur.
SE: Your greatest assets are the people that work with you and motivating them to embrace your vision. Always follow your intuition and understand that all money isn’t good money.
GQ: What has been the best advice you received in your career and from whom?
SE: I’ve gotten so much great advice along the way, but what drives me daily is what my mother taught me first and foremost, all that I have is really a gift from God. She always encouraged me to work hard and stay humble. Winnie Jackson, a very special sister friend helped me secure my first corporate account. She always instilled that successful people in business must sow seeds in people and help them grow along the way.
GQ: How do you give back?
SE: My business model has always included avenues to serve. As my business grew, so did my service. In the beginning of my career, I developed a one-time event for inner city kids during the Olympics that evolved into a free, week-long, multiple city, and summer camp for inner kids around the country. This program named Summerscope, lasted for over 15 shows. The Café Mocha Cares Foundation inspires, educates, and elevates women and children seeking supportive housing and services to combat homelessness and domestic violence through awareness and mentorship programs. It is important for me to point out that my service is another expression of my belief in the concept of tithing.
GQ: What do you want your legacy to be?
SE: That Sheila Eldridge was one of the hardest working women in the industry who believed in the philosophy of it takes a village and networking works.
GQ: What are you most optimistic about in media and entertainment for African American talent and executives?
SE: I am inspired by the breadth of talent we are beginning to see behind the scenes that is affecting what we are seeing on the screen in terms of relevance to the African American experience. I love what Ava DuVernay is doing. She most exemplifies focusing on your passion while walking in your career. She began as a publicist, honed her craft as a writer and director and is now producing. That is what I am most optimistic about, people changing the game.
GQ: What’s next for you?
SE: Continue to grow my marketing and broadcast business. I recently received my government certification. I’m extremely proud that we’re working on the Grand Opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media specialist with a career spanning over 25 years. She is the founder of the African American Public Relations Collective (AAPRC) and the publisher of Global Communicator. Her weekly columns, “Inside Broadway with Gwendolyn Quinn” and “My Person of the Week” are published with EURweb.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business. Contact her at GwendolynQuinn@aol.com.